Caltrans begins cleanup of Highway 1/9 homeless encampment as eviction notices take effect
Seventy-two hours after notices went up, police and clean-up crews began the final stages of clearing out the homeless encampment at Highways 1 and 9 in Santa Cruz. Most occupants left over the weekend, but with shelters full, it’s unclear where many of them went.
After months of debate and anticipation, crews on Monday morning began cleaning out Santa Cruz’s most visible homeless encampment, lining the intersection of Highways 1 and 9.
At least a dozen officers from the Santa Cruz Police Department and California Highway Patrol assembled at the intersection by 8 a.m. — some 72 hours after Caltrans had posted mandatory eviction notices for the site. The unsheltered people who remained at the camp cooperated with officers, who helped them pack their belongings and leave the property safely.
By late afternoon, the majority of camp occupants, some of whom had lived there for a year or more, had vacated the intersection. But only one corner of it had been completely cleared out, with an estimated 20 people remaining.
“I think most people understand this is kind of a dangerous spot to set up,” CHP Sergeant Troy Vincent said at the scene. “Almost everybody that we were in touch with over the weekend understands and has been cooperative.”
Vincent estimated there were about 127 people at the encampment at its “high point.” That number dropped to around 40 over the weekend as people heeded the eviction notices.
One woman, who goes by Audrey, said she began packing her belongings as soon as she saw the warnings over the weekend. “I’m not mad at anybody or anything, they’re just doing their job,” she said. “It sucks that you got to be homeless and there isn’t much resources or places to go, but I know that they got to do their job, too, so it is what it is.”
The evictions ushered in the beginning of a long-term construction project that will add additional lanes and improve pedestrian safety through the busy intersection. The roadwork is set to begin this summer.
Audrey said she doesn’t yet know where she will relocate, but she took down the phone number for Housing Matters, the nonprofit to which CHP and the Santa Cruz police were referring people if they needed help. Phil Kramer, the executive director at Housing Matters, said on Monday afternoon that the organization had yet to see any noticeable uptick in calls.
Another homeless resource group, the nonprofit Warming Center Program, was on site with a small bus, packing belongings and preparing to transport people to “the next logical place,” said Brent Adams, the program’s manager.
Adams said many of the people displaced over the weekend had moved to Pogonip, Sycamore Grove, or the city of Santa Cruz’s new Benchlands camp, next to San Lorenzo Park. One place they couldn’t go? Homeless shelters that are under Santa Cruz County’s umbrella; those shelters are full and have long waiting lists.
According to Santa Cruz city spokesperson Elizabeth Smith, Benchlands managers added eight new tent spaces to the encampment Monday morning, bringing the number of campsites there to 135. It is unclear whether the new arrivals who were filling those tents came from Highway 1/9 or elsewhere.
While Santa Cruz officials have been at the center of a controversy over homeless people living in and around San Lorenzo Park, they have played a much smaller role in clearing out the Highway 1/9 encampment, which lies on state property. After city and county officials pleaded for help from Gov. Gavin Newsom to deal with shutting down the encampment, Caltrans was tasked with footing the bill for cleanup, the cost of which is still unclear.
Caltrans officials said they expect the full cleanup to last the entire week.